He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, He descended into hell.
These words teach us how He accomplished our redemption, for which He had been born as a mortal man. For by His obedience He wiped out the disobedience of man which was provoking the wrath of God, yielding Himself in obedience to His Father right up to His death. In His death, He offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father, so that the Father’s justice might once and for all be appeased, in order that all believers might be eternally sanctified, and eternal satisfaction be accomplished. He has shed His holy blood as the price of our redemption, in order that God’s anger, inflamed against us, should be extinguished, and that we should be purified from our iniquities.
In this redemption there is nothing that is without mystery.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, whose verdict condemned Him as a criminal and lawbreaker, in order that we, through this condemnation, might be freed and acquitted before the judgment seat of the great Judge.
He was crucified, in order to endure on the cross — which was cursed in God’s Law — the curse which our sins deserved.
He died in order, by His death, to conquer the death which threatened us, and to swallow it up — that death which otherwise would have swallowed and devoured us all.
He was buried so that we, united to Him by the active power of His death, might be buried with our sin and delivered from the power of the devil and of death.
As for the expression He descended into hell, this means that He was struck by God and that He endured and felt the horrible rigor of God’s judgment, putting Himself between God’s anger and ourselves, and satisfying God’s justice on our behalf. He thus suffered and bore the punishment which our unrighteousness deserved, while there was not the slightest trace of sin in Him.
Not that the Father was ever incensed against Him: for how could He ever have been furious against His beloved Son in whom He found all His joy? And besides, how could the Son have appeased God by His intercession if He had angered Him? But He bore the weight of God’s anger in the sense that being struck and overcome by the hand of God, He experienced all the expressions of God’s fury and retribution, to the point of being moved to cry out in His anguish, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)
John Calvin, Truth For All Time, pp. 39-41